Those rebuilding Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) found themselves facing a big problem. They had a variety of remote gates that were spread far away, and they wanted to bring as many of those into the central terminal area as possible. The airport did come to a solution, but it’s a compromise. And it’s not a great one for travelers who are forced to use it.
Here is a look at the central terminal area at LAX. Up top you have Terminals 1, 2, and 3 from right to left. At bottom, you have 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 from left to right. That little standalone building on the bottom right is the current American Eagle remote gates. Then at the far west end, you have the Tom Bradley International Terminal.
As you can see — and as you well know if you’ve driven through the airport — the central terminal area is served by a horseshoe road that occasionally sees speeds above 5 mph. It’s jammed. But they are working to remake the place with a new people mover you can see taking shape in the spine of the terminal area.
In its current configuration, there is limited room to grow in this horseshoe, though there is a future plan to build concourse 0 attached to Terminal 1 on the top right and to replace the Eagle remote gates with a Terminal 9. But at the west end is where there really is more opportunity to grow the most, outside the horseshoe.
The first thing the airport did was completely rebuild the gates in Bradley. Instead of having small gate areas that only hung on the east side of the building, they razed it and built a palace with gates on both sides. But demand kept growing, so they created plans to build the new Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) which you see at the left end of the photo. The MSC is only partially complete. The eventual plan will extend further to the south with more simple narrowbody gates.
The MSC was built with a long tunnel beneath the taxiway to connect the buildling to the Bradley Terminal, but there was a problem. All of this gate growth came with exactly NO growth in the headhouse. In other words, there were a ton more gates, but there were no new ticket counter positions to handle the additional flights.
I have to assume that there was some evaluation of a way to put more ticket counters in Bradley, but it was decided to skimp on that and instead, build a remote ticket counter. Enter Terminal 1.5.
Between Terminals 1 and 2, there used to be nothing at all. It was, in fact, one of the few places you could actually see airplanes from the horseshoe. But LAX built a massive new structure which will connect to the people mover. It has a large new security area, it connects Terminals 1 and 2 behind security, and it has ticket counters for a bunch of airlines that park their airplanes over at the MSC.
I never thought this was a good idea, but I didn’t have the chance to experience it for myself until I went to a recent event for Breeze at the airport.
Let’s forget that I mistakenly went to Bradley first — that’s entirely my fault for not double-checking — but I eventually walked back toward 1.5 and began the journey. It started at the Breeze ticket counters.
After getting my gate pass, I had to head back toward Terminal 2 and up escalators to get to the security level.
Apparently those escalators overshot themselves, because I then have to walk back down some stairs to security itself.
That was completely empty — something to keep in mind if nearby checkpoints are busy, I suppose. Once through, it dumped me out in between Terminals 1 and 2 where a sea of stanchions had been set up to wait for the bus to show up. At least the view is nice.
I waited for awhile, maybe 10 minutes, and heard the various interactions there. It was weird. Nobody ever checked my boarding pass, but when someone came up saying they were just going to use the lounge in Bradley, the lineminder told them they absolutely could not go. Only those with boarding passes for flights from Bradley could use the bus. But again, nobody ever checked my gate pass, so I guess the moral is to just be quiet.
Finally, the bus arrived, and the lineminder apologized for the wait. Maybe that wasn’t normal to have the lengthy time in line. We went right back downstairs to the bottom level for boarding.
We were then dumped out into a covered corridor where the bus was waiting. Peek-a-boo, Southwest.
After a couple minutes, we began our arduous journey. We headed straight out to the end of the concourses and then hung a left on to a taxiway over toward Bradley. The roads get complicated from there, as we had to turn left and follow along the main Bradley gates toward the middle of the concourse. If you aren’t in a hurry, at least it’s a great view.
Then in the middle of the terminal, you wait your turn and the bus darts across to the MSC when the coast is clear. I had a nice view of the Breeze airplane, among others.
We then had to wait a bit on that side of the taxiway until some other ground traffic cleared. Again, hello sexy view.
Once we were cleared, we went under the MSC where they have bus gates that dump you out into the lower level of the concourse.
It was then time to go up some more escalators until reaching the main part of the concourse. First impressions… it’s not ready for primetime. There’s still a lot of work to be done on concessions as they finish the build-out. But it looks like a nice place, just like the main Bradley concourse but with a little less flourish.
While the gates are nice, Terminal 1.5 is a really annoying extra step in the journey. I mean, just take a look at this visually, it’s a full tour of the airport.
Red is walking, green is bus
It wouldn’t bother me as much for a big international trip since you usually get to the airport earlier for those anyway. Norse was using this setup when it briefly flew to LA this year, and that’s fine. Air Transat and Viva Aerobus, also not the end of the world. I suppose the same goes for Southwest which runs its international flights this way, but that’s also temporary until Concourse 0 gets built. But the other airlines using this are Allegiant, Breeze, and Sun Country. That just adds a lot of hassle and time to the experience of taking a domestic flight.
For what it’s worth, I walked out via the Bradley Terminal to see if that was better, and it is still a long way to go. You have to go down two levels in the MSC to an underground level where there is a very, very long corridor.
Way on the other side, it brings you up into the main hall at Bradley, but it is not easy to get out. I followed the signs to baggage claim and ended up at a dead end near the outdoor smoking patio that told me to turn around and use a different exit.
It’s definitely better than using Terminal 1.5, but it’s still a hassle compared to the other terminals. That’s especially tough for an airline like Hawaiian which has been relegated to that location from its previous positions in Terminal 5 and before that, 2.
I’m accustomed to long distances in many airports. But many of them have slide-walks. And while some people just stand and slide, people like me walk the slide, which saves a lot of time, and is also curiously enjoyable. I’m wondering why LAX seems not to have included these in those long tunnels.
Perhaps LAWA believes the cost of installation & maintaining those moving walkways just isn’t worth it. To me not having them in such a huge facility is just silly.
They do have “slide-walks” in the long tunnel between Bradley and the MSC. See the last picture of the post. It’s still a decently long journey though.
They do have moving walkways. It’s not far .. only about 450 metres
I’ve never seen it called a slidewalk before but I LOVE that word! I am totally stealing it from you and will use regularly from now on. Thank you!
They do have moving walkways.
The number of missed connections I’ve had at FRA due to remote parking stands, delayed buses, etc., makes me dislike these layouts immensely. To your point, if it’s an international flight, you’ll be there two to three hours beforehand and it won’t matter. Not sure most travelers (especially on the ULCCs) will account for the extra time since they’re flying domestic. I’ve made the airside walk from Terminal 8 (UA) to Bradley before so I could take advantage of Priority Pass lounge access with Korean. Bradley’s a beautiful terminal; I just wish it didn’t take 20 minutes to make the walk. Regardless, you have to give LAWA credit for trying to work within the existing constraints to improve the travel experience. I am really curious, though, how much the people mover’s going to improve traffic on the horseshoe.
Nobody said moving through terminal 1.5 was going to be a “Breeze!”
I wonder what else LAWA has planned as the olympic games will be coming in just over five years.
is the intent for passengers checking in at 1.5 to be able to walk all the way there eventually through the terminal 2 – 3 and 3-TBIT connectors when they are all through?
And is LAWA offering discounted rates to airlines that have their operations as badly split as these will be?
Isn’t the DL terminal hosting ticketing for some of the airlines that operate out of TBIT?
Seems like alot of airlines with ticketing dislocated from their gates but the whole bus across the airfield process seems costly and an unnecessary long-term safety risk.
I think a lot of the problem is that busses actually aren’t costly; they’re a lot cheaper than building proper infrastructure. A miserable, time-consuming passenger experience isn’t a “cost”, at least not the way the airport accounts for it — passengers choosing other airlines, other airports, or simply not to fly because of the miserable experience is hard to account for and may not even happen because consumers don’t know who’s at fault.
1) Passengers will be able to check in at 1.5 and walk when the connector is open, but that is not the intent. It is too far. The buses are a permanent feature as long as this setup exists.
2) LAWA has been working with airlines to make the move less painful, but I don’t know what that entails. The costs should absolutely be lower, but I don’t know details.
3) No. Terminal 3 had ticket counters for airlines that were operating out of Bradley before, but that was pre-renovation.
perhaps, then, terminal 1.5 and the MSC is how LAWA intends to meet its requirements to provide access to non-incumbent domestic carriers and is really a way to protect the incumbent carrier/terminal operators
I find it staggering that LAWA built a large new concourse of gates without considering the need for terminal space. Or, even worse, they considered it and this was the solution.
Maybe they could get a good deal on buses from DCA now that 35X is finally closed. Or some “moon landing units” from IAD. LAX apparently missed the memo that airports are trying to get rid of gates using this type of outdated, inconvenient conveyance.
That’s a parody of the disfunction of LAX. Seems like a far more logical approach would be to have Terminal 2/3 airlines (Delta) use the 1.5 and 2 check-in areas and have TBIT airlines that can’t fit in the TBIT headhouse check in at Terminal 3 and walk over to TBIT (as Virgin Australia did for a while). Having TBIT airlines check in at 1.5 (or 3), clear security there, and take a bus is just insane. I guess there will at least be a non-bus option once the T3-TBIT airside connector opens? But given the distance, a bus option will probably still be necessary for those who are less able to walk the better part of a mile from 1.5 to the satellite concourse. And I know logic has little to do with this, especially given that Delta has invested in their terminals and doesn’t care about accommodating airlines in the MSC – a particularly clear symbol of the disfunction of LAX.
Air Transat flights would all be Customs pre-cleared, so functionally domestic except for the docs check, right? Lumping Canada/Mexico flights, which are shorter than many domestic flights, in with intercontinental long haul isn’t quite fair; this seems just as unreasonable for them as for Spirt/Southwest.
Alex – Yeah, they are pre-cleared, but I still think most people tend to arrive earlier even for shorter international flights. But you’re right, it is different still.
Do you know what these MSC/1.5 airlines are using for baggage claim? Do arriving passengers have to trudge to 1.5 (and good luck having signage to even get them to find their way there!), or does the worst of this mess only apply to departing passengers?
Alex – It’s baggage claim too.
Because terminals 2/3 are managed and rebuilt by Delta and for SkyTeam.
That is nuts. I remember flying Southwest to LIR and we had to take the ponderous bus. But, for a Breeze flight?
Uh. It seems that MSC is the Island of Unwanted Toys, and Breeze won a Charlie in the Box.
MSC is used by major carriers. Air France (klm) is expected to open a new lounge there
Man, what a pain. No wonder Hawaiian sued over being asked to move to the MSC.
But keep in mind that Hawaiian doesn’t even have to deal with 1.5 It has its counters in Bradley, so it is actually less painful than this… and it’s still bad.
It’s no different from most major airports. I’ve used it a few times and it’s very easy to use.
Wouldn’t it be simpler to check in at 1.5, then trek over to Bradley outside security? Especially after the people mover is built, as it will have a station right there. Assuming, of course, security at Bradley isn’t jammed.
Ron – Not really, because then you’re still in Bradley and you have to do the long walk out to the MSC there. If you have to go to 1.5, you’re better off just taking the bus, I think.
Should’ve built the new airport out in Palmdale 45 years ago with a high speed train linking it to various places in the city like was planned. Now we are stuck with an obsolete airport with no room to expand that is ALWAYS choked with traffic and overcrowding.
I went to UCLA and USC for school in the 90’s and flew out back and forth from LAX to the Bay Area a LOT. Back then fares on SW was dirt cheap. Now when I look at LAX, it is totally unrecognizable.
This “solution” – should it be the long-term plan, which is dreadful – just doesn’t seem up to par with what LAX should be providing.
Given the distance, I find it odd that they did not provide an underground automated people mover of some sort between the main TBIT and the MSC. It could even have been a cable-based “horizontal elevator” similar to those at MSP. I feel the distances in the McNamara Terminal at Detroit are perhaps even less, and they have an internal tram there as well.
Also – with all the funds they are spending on the TBIT concourses, they couldn’t somehow expand the headhouse? Seriously? This is where a creative designer might have been able to come up with some type of solution that would allow people to check in at the actual terminal they are using. The World Way curb space will open up quite a bit with the people mover to the CONRAC and the Metro (mainly the CONRAC – that will remove a lot of traffic from World Way). I believe that ride share services will also be at one of the “ITF” stations on the people mover, as the LAXit lot is where Terminal 0 goes. So if LAWA’s fear was that there wasn’t enough curb space in front of the TBIT, I just don’t buy it necessarily. (And that traffic is still on World Way, by the way, to serve Terminal “1.5”.
Overall, a bad experience.
They are expanding the headhouse somewhat — there’s a decently large chunk of space (I believe ~50k sf) in the West station of the new people mover. That is/was supposed to have additional ticket counters for Bradley, but of course only time will tell whether those will be built out.
I lived in LA until the mid 2010’s and always thought LAX was a dump. I recently mentioned to a friend that I’d never want to connect in LAX – “it’s a dump” – and he couldn’t have been more shocked. He mentioned how the Bradley terminal is, in his opinion, one of the nicest airport terminals in the US. I don’t really like high-end shopping in airports, but nonetheless, I had to remind myself that LAX has changed considerably since I lived there (including, apparently, the traffic getting much worse). Now, I agree with another commenter here – these photos are unrecognizable.
As a side note, if anyone has photos of Bradley pre renovation for nostalgia’s sake, please let me know! It’s hard to find them on Google.
The landside access to LAX is so bad that I’ve sometimes said the best way to catch a flight at LAX is to fly there from San Diego. Especially with the airside connections added in the last few years, connecting at LAX isn’t that bad, it’s starting or ending a trip there that’s awful.
The economy lot makes the landside access much better. The bus route they currently have running from the lot avoids most of the traffic by cutting through the bus yard then on to Vicksburg and sky way right to the bus lanes in the CTA. Still have not tried it on a busy holiday so it might not be as good then. Unfortunately once the people mover get up a running I do not think the lot will be big enough.
I did something like that in the late 1970s, right before Christmas. My CPA firm had me temporarily assigned to their Newport Beach office, and I was booked out of LAX.* The TV news was full of horror stories about the previous year’s backups on World Way — back to the 405 — so I booked a puddle-jumper flight SNA-LAX just to avoid the traffic.
The flight was a DeHavilland Twin Otter, probably configured for 19 passengers. Truly spectacular view of the coast on the short flight. We parked at a remote gate where the TBT is now.
* Continental to IAH on a DC-10. Yes, that was a long time ago.
It seems LAX is always adjusting/remodeling/adapting its airport to try to meet current needs.
44 years ago, ATL radically changed its footprint with its visonary midfield terminal to meet future needs. More recently SLC built a totally new terminal on top of their old one while still maintaining operations. Yes, LAX is seemingly hemmed in and they have to deal with myriad California regulations and interest groups. But it seems they are in need of a radical change instead of the long series of band-aids to their existing facility. I thought the new TBIT and MSC might lead to such, but alas we’re back to bandaging the old facility.
I was just thinking the same thing. That ATL, while being a very large and obviously busy international airport, is very well-designed and easy to navigate. LAX is a logistical nightmare.
As much as some people like to pick on ATL and its underground tram, it really is what I would consider the “gold standard” in terms of design for large hubs. For arriving pax without bags to claim, it’s possible to get to the curb from nearly every gate in roughly 10-20 minutes, which is tough to beat. ATL even has a connection to MARTA (the local mass transit rail system), which is surprising for such a car-heavy city, though few passengers use it.
I will say (as someone who flies to ATL a few times a year, often for the holidays) that the land-side traffic lanes for passenger pickups & dropoffs can move extremely slowly due to traffic. That seems to be true of many airports, however, and I’ve seen ATL strictly enforce (with tickets, not just whistles) the rule that stopped vehicles must be ACTIVELY loading/unloading pax, not merely waiting for them to arrive.
There may not be space or enough demand, but I’d love to imagine what ATL might potentially be like with a headhouse & ticket counters on the opposite side of the airport (near the F gates & international terminal, to serve those terminals and perhaps the D & E terminals as well), as that would be a huge enhancement.
I find LAX very easy to use. Been there over 50 times.
Just did HPN-LAX-HPN with BREEZE.
Coming into LAX and walking to Bradley left me at the same closed door. Miserable signage. Then left through ticketing, squeezing by boarding pass checks for the opposite direction. Weird.
For return flight went to T1 straight via security to the bus. WIth plenty of time then at MSC walked to Bradley for the AMEX lounge and back shortly after. Then all the way to the last gate. Got me my 10,000 steps that day!
Checked with Breeze staff that when checked in online and no checked luggage, one can enter via Bradley. Will do next time.
No matter the hazzle, this will probably be my regular NY-LA route. Flying from HPN when living in Westchester, NY, is perfect. A220 brand new. Staff really excited to work for Breeze.
Yeah if you’re in Westchester county or Western Connecticut, it’s hard to imagine a more convenient way to LA. Except maybe if Breeze flew into BUR! (Wouldn’t work for me though as I try to always stay west of the 405 so I’m happy to deal with the labyrinth that is LAX.)
More and more like the interminable Heathrow bus service which feels more like commuting than shuttling.
If you checkin online, have cabin baggage only , you can go directly to the Tom Bradley terminal and no need to go to 1.5.
1.5 is also dedicated to low cost carriers – condor, vivaaerobus, breeze, sun country, air transat, Norse ( if they still exist next year), allegiant and cayman with its 1 weekly flight.
This is no different from what’s found in Europe in the case of the likes of Ryanair. You also get nice runway views.